Once upon a time, the very first fireworks were concocted in a cooking pot: cooked up by a Chinese cook in her kitchen. At least, so the legend goes. Apparently the combustible ingredients were right there in her spice cabinet: saltpeter, charcoal, sulfur and a dash of who knows what. A happy and dangerous accident, the recipe erupted pyrotechnically.
Stuff this stuff into bamboo sticks, throw them on the fire, and “POOF! BANG! BOOM!”, fireworks are born.
Great for warding off evil spirits;
Grand for celebrations of state occasions;
Glittering demonstrations of prowess and power.
Picture a Tudor king’s wedding day, the coronation of a Scottish king, pyrotechnic displays at Czar Peter’s palace, and bright illuminations at Versailles.
And this 4th of July, Roman Candles stand ready to light up our skies. Stand up and sing with me the poetry Francis Scott Key scribbled after the Battle of Fort McHenry, 1814:
O say can you see,
By the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed,
As the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars,
Through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched,
Were so gallantly streaming.
And the rocket’s red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there.
And it was on the eve of that very first 4th, that our second president presciently described how future Americans would celebrate the day.
“…with pomp and parade, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”
In other words — fireworks!
Many-a-time, downtown on the mall, in my hometown of Washington, D.C. I have seen those fireworks fly.
In the bicentennial days of my marriage to William, there was no holier day than Independence Day: the most romantic day of the year.
We’d pack a picnic of peanut butter sandwiches, cookies, and fruit, and a six-pack of clearly illegal beer. We’d stuff our duffle bag with baseball hats, books, and bug spray: all for the marvelous day.
We’d head out early on metro, crowded into subway cars with the tourists – all vying for prime locations and the very best views.
We’d stake out our claim by the reflecting pool and spread our old cotton quilt on the ground. We’d plop ourselves down and stretch out under the setting sun, waiting for the blanket of dark to come.
We’d read to each other from Herman Hesse and tune into WHFS. We’d talk and talk and talk and then just be quiet: that lovely intimate quiet wrapped in each other’s arms:
Fireworks — of a different kind.
Now forty years on, William and I have gone our separate ways. Twelve years now, he has his life by the sea. Twelve years now, my Alexandria life is my own. And that is how it is supposed to be. The happiest place for me in my 61 years. And yet it is so strange, that my ex-husband is a stranger to me.
I harbor no resentment and I wish him well. It has been ancient of days since I have missed the man.
But what I do miss and what I am determined to find are those fireworks of the intimate kind: the easy conversation; the comfortable silence; bright bursts of passion: a meeting of the minds. “POOF! BANG! BOOM!”
On a blanket,
On the mall,
On the 4th of July.
The Rev: Joani